We have tried to scare each other with stories that trigger the less logical parts of our imaginations for as long as we've told tales. From the ballads of the ancient world to modern urban myths, people willingly offer themselves up to sadistic storytellers to be scared out of their minds, and are happy to pay for the privilege. There are countless reasons to try and explain why. Do we get basic thrills from triggering the rush of adrenalin which fear brings, or do horror stories serve a wider moral purpose, reinforcing the rules and taboos of our society and showing the ghoulish fate of those who transgress?
Horror movies have long served both purposes. They deliver thrills by the truck load, as well as telling us stories of the dark, forbidden side of life and death. They also provide a revealing picture of the stresses of their time. Nosferatu (1922) is not simply a tale of a vampire, but offers a heart-wrenching image of a town struggling with premature and random deaths, echoing real life disasters of World War I and the Great Flu Epidemic dealth. At the other end of the century Blade (1998) is also not just a tale of vampirism, but reflects a fear of the powerful and sometimes irresponsible elements in society.
Each generation gets the horror films it deserves, and one of the more fascinating aspects these movies are the changing nature of the monsters who scare us. In the early 1940s, a world living under the shadow of Hitler identify a part-man, part-wolf as their boogeyman, whose inhuman nature caused him to tear apart those who crossed his path. In the 1990s there was no need for a part wolf component, Hannibal Lecter (Silence of the Lambs 1991, Hannibal 2001) was completely human in his calculated and highly stylized killing methods. As we move on into the twenty first century, ghosts and zombies are back in vogue as Eastern and Western superstitions meet. In an era of war and high tech, supernatural terror is more appetizing than the fear brought on by today's news headlines.